The Oddly-Effective Habit That Keeps My Home Life Running Smoothly

If you have spent even 10 seconds on my Instagram, you probably know that I am a big fan of all things domestic. I spend a lot of my free time reading cooking and home decor magazines, love spending an afternoon figuring out a gallery wall, and try to home-cook something (reasonably) interesting and delicious for dinner at least four nights a week. I still have a long way to go — while spending a few days at my parents’ place in Philly this past week, I marveled at how easily and confidently my mother can execute a meal while still interacting with her guests — but I am getting better every day, and more importantly, taking pride in making my home life something that feels like a reflection of my inner goals.

There are a lot of financial benefits to being in charge of one’s domestic sphere, of course: simply put, the more comfortable we are with staying home, and the more adept we are at thoughtfully planning out meals for ourselves, the less money we’ll waste on everything from takeout to sad desk lunches to unnecessary restaurant trips. But my desire to master my home life is not purely (or even mostly) financial. I am someone who used to be deeply messy and chaotic in the way I lived: my workspace was always hidden under piles of un-folded clothes and empty glasses, my closet was always bursting with stuff I hastily threw in there, and I never had what I needed in my kitchen to make even the most basic meals I was craving. My parents (and former roommates) can attest to the fact that I used to live like a Hot Mess, and it was reflected in every aspect of my life, from the professional to the personal.

And I believe that living in an ordered, thoughtful way — keeping lists everywhere, staying on top of a regular cleaning schedule, organizing clothes and getting rid of what you do not use — radiates outward into the rest of your life. I am a much more organized and efficient person as a result of the way I live at home, and though I am by no means a neat freak, I never worry about coming back to an utterly-wrecked home life that makes me feel as chaotic and disorganized as it looks. My home base is a comfortable, clean place from which I can do my best work.

All that said, it’s simply not easy for me to stay as on top of things as I would like. I am a night-owl, and have a tendency to hoard things I know I’m never going to use. And while I’m never going to aspire to minimalism, I know that I err too much to the other side — over-stocking and under-organizing. It’s not a natural thing for me to spend the healthy 20-30 minutes each day that are truly necessary to keep your home in as clean and efficient an order as possible. I am much more likely to find myself with ritualistic, longer cleans (lately, I’ve been a huge fan of getting up somewhat-early on Saturdays and thoroughly cleaning rooms while listening to This American Life). But it would be dishonest to say that these cleans aren’t at least partially motivated by a very external factor: I have made it a habit to very frequently host overnight guests.

I have an old friend in town for a few days this weekend, and that will make my fourth overnight guest in the three months I’ve lived in this apartment. And while I do also frequently host friends for cocktails or dinners (about once a week), the cleaning and prep, as well as the general mental cleansing, that overnight guests require is much different. Not only is there a deep sense of pride that wells up — these people haven’t seen me in forever, and have never seen my place, it must be at its best! — there is also a high level of general organization that goes into it, which radiates outward into other aspects of my life.

Good overnight hosting means many things: clean linens, efficient shopping, meal prep (because you don’t want to be spending your whole life in the kitchen while your guest is visiting), and deep cleaning. In the week before they arrive, it’s a small whirlwind of timing things efficiently and getting all one’s errands done around work and the heightened level of cleaning that’s already a part of the deal. In the weeks before my houseguests arrive, I am never more military about how I plan, shop, and cook. This morning before work, for example, I went through my entire kitchen and cleaned out my cabinets, figured out exactly what I needed for the weekend, and planned several meals that can be mostly be made ahead of time so that I have very little tedious kitchen work to do. Now, is any of this absolutely necessary? No. But it is the way I would prefer to tackle every weekend, and the more I force myself to do it because of an arriving guest, the more natural it becomes. I never used to have a grocery list on my refrigerator until a guest’s arrival necessitated one to keep myself organized — now, I use it every day.

Having frequent houseguests also means that the reciprocal, karmic nature of travel is opened up further to me: I have many more people with whom I’d feel comfortable staying, and more people asking me to come visit. I feel it’s a good energy to put into the world, and putting effort into making a guest feel comfortable, well-received, and happy makes me feel those same things. I do it for myself as much as I do it for them. But I also realize that seeing my home life through the eyes of a rare guest, and forcing myself to do all the otherwise-useful prep to maximize my time spent enjoying a weekend has huge benefits outside of their stay. If I treated every week with such care and attention to detail, I would find myself less stressed, less panicked, and with much more free time to do the things I enjoyed.

Slowly but surely, as I’ve gone from someone who treats their home with disregard to someone who takes pride in it, I’ve realized that half the battle in creating these habits is having a reason to force yourself. And I’m someone who believes that no matter what motivates you, the point is creating the habit you want, not squabbling over doing it for the “right” reasons. If what gets you out of bed at 6 AM is getting to post that gorgeous sunrise Instagram from your otherwise-tedious morning run, good for you! If you have a crush on someone in your cooking class and that’s what’s getting you to finally put time and energy into learning how to feed yourself, awesome!

We can’t be puritanical about our ~deep inner reasons~ for making change, and if inviting frequent overnight guests means I become more organized, clean, and detail-oriented, good! I am slowly seeing these habits bleed into my non-guest-having periods, and that to me is more rewarding than even a beloved friend’s company. Because I know that whether I am totally alone or surrounded by loved ones, I will always reap the benefits of my increased domestic zen.

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  • “And I’m someone who believes that no matter what motivates you, the point is creating the habit you want, not squabbling over doing it for the “right” reasons.”
    Agreed! I used to spend so much time stressing over whether I had the right motivation for things and now I’m like, “Thank God I have any motivation to begin with.”